Trench truth from those who “answered for the bazaar”: Why does a Russian soldier, not sparing his life, fight in Ukraine?
Political scientist Stas Smagin became a political instructor at the forefront.
Photo: Dmitry STESHIN
A year ago, we acutely realized how much we need real commissars from the time of the Civil War or political commissars of the Great Patriotic War. Not immediately, but they began to appear at the forefront. The KP.RU military correspondent spoke with one of these.
Stas arrived in Donetsk on a Sunday leave from the long-suffering Maryinka. A nondescript toponym that has become known to the whole world, a symbol of bloody battles and desperate assaults. It is there that his battalion, named after the Russian hero and saint Ilya Muromets, stands in positions.
I have known for a very long time Stas Smagin, Rostov political scientist and journalist. In 2018, he and I ugly quarreled on the Internet about the “Minsk agreements” and at the same time banned each other so that we would never see or hear from each other again. But, God decreed otherwise, God had other plans for our relationship. In 2021, I met Stas in Karabakh – the Armenian Foreign Ministry brought a group of Russian journalists and political scientists to Artsakh, which was then at war. We reconciled, of course. The next meeting will be in the late autumn of 2022 in icy Donetsk. Stas was already dressed in an unprepossessing and not crumpled “Donetsk pixel”. Came here as a volunteerwithout waiting for mobilization. To my idiotic question “why?”, Stas answered directly:
– So many years to talk about the Donbass and stay on the sidelines, in the rear? Moreover, my opponents in discussions sent me to the trenches all the time. Well, I listened. I’m a Rostov kid, and it’s customary to answer for the bazaar.
Stanislav Smagin, Rostov political scientist and journalist.
Photo: Personal archive
In the Donbass, all the last doubts have disappeared. Stas tells a completely classic story. Everyone living here has something like this in their memory. I have a boy Artemka, with whom I hid under the basement of the house during the shelling of the village of Zaitsevo. And with each arrival, Artemka laughed and said: “Bukh!”. When I asked how old is he? Artemka showed four on his fingers and I realized that he had lived his whole life in the war. For what and before whom did he so terribly guilty? Stas turned out to have a similar plot that plowed him up:
– I just arrived in Donetsk, in the fall, do you remember, then they threw mines-petals at it? A boy with his mother is walking around the yard, probably, he just started talking and so sternly to her: “Don’t step on the leaves! There is a mine-petal hiding! You see, “mine-petal”, among his first words! I just confirmed that I did everything right.
BETWEEN FRONT AND INQUIRIES
Who will he be in NWO Stas did not know yet, but he was ready for anything. It was a brilliant decision of the command – to throw an excellent polemist and a convinced “separ” not on a tray of ammunition, for example, but on the ideological front. However, the trenches at this front are still the same – earthen. And six months later, this was reflected in Stas – his face sharpened, weathered. The good looks of an expert from a television studio disappeared – before, Stas was often invited by federal channels to their political talk shows.
Stas came to Donbass as a volunteer, without waiting for mobilization.
Photo: Dmitry STESHIN
On a whim, I imagined the specifics of the work of a political officer and was not mistaken in the question:
– Do you have a lot of paperwork?
– The military bureaucracy is the most evil. And there is also the junction of paper bureaucracy and work with people. Contact with the families of the dead. My duty is to inform them. Can you imagine how it is? Sometimes, it seems, it’s better to “get over two hundred” yourself (to die. – Ed.) …
We were silent Stas continued:
– Notified, and then the hardest part begins. I “lead” the family, help to arrange all payments and benefits. As a rule, after the fact, more and more certificates begin to be demanded …
– What kind of fighters do you have?
– Donetsk “mobiks”someone managed to make war in 2014-15, someone didn’t take up arms at all, but now guys from the Urals have appeared.
– And what is your task in working with fighters?
– “To convey to the personnel the meaning of our struggle.” The political instructor should be with the fighters all the time, not somewhere in the rear. But just being with them is not enough, you need to show that you “take out for your words”, that you are not just a “star-baller-entertainer”. You shouldn’t lie to the guys and you shouldn’t lie to yourself.
The political instructor should be with the fighters all the time, not somewhere in the rear.
Photo: Dmitry STESHIN
– And what do you tell them?
Stas lists for a long time what we are NOT fighting for (these problems of the country are well known to all of us), and then it comes to the main thing – what we are fighting for:
– For grandfathers and for the future of our children, for Russia, ancient and yet unseen. In general, the fighters have no doubts that if we do not win, Russia will not exist and an extremely sad future awaits us. But this needs to be said, it will not be superfluous.
I explain to the Donbass guys that you are now fighting not only for your home, but for a huge country, it is now yours.
– And what do you say to the mobilized?
– That they fight not only for the houses of comrades from the Donbass, but also for their homes. For the children who write us letters to the front. I just take and read a couple of letters.
And then, my guys see, and I remind them – who comes to them. The same Django and Lundstrem. Yes, just an amateur ensemble from Siberia came, at their own expense, on vacation! And the same amateur volunteers.
– In our country, for example, neighbors self-organized through the house chat, I nod. – And there is a volunteer cell in the editorial office. And the wife of my colleague, a journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda, simply imposed socks and put a pack of good cigarettes in each one, I carried them along the front in winter.
– A classmate of my neighbors in the Rostov region organized. So we have a constant flow of popular support, and the fighters see this well. And they understand that the grandmothers rented crumpled thousands for the equipment that they brought, and businessmen bought expensive thermal imagers. Though the people are rich, they are ours, for us.
I tell Stas that, based on films and books, we represent a little political work in the Red Army. In the Third Reich, faced with our institute of political instructors and evaluating its effectiveness, they also wanted to get something similar for themselves and began to send “honored members of the NSDAP” to the front. But it was too late. But what about the current enemy, how about ideological work on the front end?
– They have the state of Ukraine “collective political officer”. Although the idea of the superiority of the Ukrainian nation is infinitely false and does not stand up to criticism, it is clearly framed in them, and does not allow double interpretations. “True Ukrainians will pan, and the rest will work for them, in a European Ukraine free from Muscovites.” “Borders of 1991 and the capture of new territories”. That is, for ideological Ukrainians, everything is extremely clear.
– When did the political officers revive in our country?
– Previously, under the USSR, there was GlavPUR, and now the Political Directorate of the Army appeared in 2018, which means they revived it. I am the deputy company commander for military-political work, therefore he is obliged to “filter”, I can’t say anything, except that everything is in the process of organization. My position in the Donetsk Army Corps was introduced, for example, a month and a half ago.
While Stas is an ordinary soldier, but the documents for the lieutenant went to Moscow
Photo: Dmitry STESHIN
– What is your title?
– Now a private, but the documents for a lieutenant went to Moscow, the first officer rank is assigned by the Minister of Defense. I am waiting.
– Having become a political officer, did you reconsider the military fate of Brezhnev? I ask suddenly. – I remember how people who had never been under shelling used to love to get lost in Perestroika over his “Little Land”. And Leonid Ilyich during the war years was a real political officer, a military one, not a staff one!
– Believe me, he came to you and Brezhnev remembered.
– Do you often go to the forefront?
– So Maryinka is the advanced one, very heavy. We are not an assault unit, but our guys go for assaults, we consolidate in our positions, they fire at us, we fire back. Our dugout, after 50 meters there are already Ukrainian positions.
– Were there moments when your presence, as a political officer, was necessary?
– We had one position in an old capital house, it collapsed, five remained under the rubble, they had to be pulled out, we heard their screams. I led a group of guys, of different ages, most of them mobilized. I didn’t know them until today. We cleared this blockage. We disassemble for five minutes, then we wait out the shelling. Then a “bird” arrives and starts dropping something on us. I didn’t have to say any slogans, to convince them. They just saw that I was working, not running away, and did the same. They waited out the shelling, I told them: “Let’s go, we’ll work some more” and they went. One guy was rescued, survived.
Marinka is the frontline, heavy fighting is going on here.
Photo: Dmitry STESHIN
WHY ALSO HAVE CHAPLANS
I know that Stas is a believer. Previously, it would have sounded strange – a churched political officer. It was possible for this to remain without a party card, and without a position. But times have changed. In addition to political officers, another separate phenomenon appeared – priests at the front. Are they needed here?
– If only this phenomenon was not formal. I know that there is a structure for interaction between the army and the Russian Orthodox Church. And there are just priests who come to us from other cities. Some out of obedience, some out of spiritual need. There are Donetsk priests. This is in addition to full-time chaplains, which are not in every regiment.
Stas tells a story about a prayer service in one unit. When, at the end of the service, the priest began to sprinkle holy water, some soldier lost consciousness. They began to bring him to his senses, unbuttoned his uniform, and on his chest there was a tattoo with Baphomet in the satanic pentagram. Stas laughs: “Holy water and God’s word work!” I ask, is competition possible between a political officer and a chaplain? Stas rejects this alignment:
– In practice, everything is harmonious. Father – this is a psychologist in a cassock, and the political officer is a psychologist in uniform. Our tasks are similar, we complement each other. Batiushka will console, cheer up, remind you of eternal life. Political officer – motivates, and if necessary – will be an example. Not only a believer, but also an atheist.
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